Most people have heard of, if not played, the telephone game. In this party pastime a leader whispers a tricky word or phrase to the next person in line. This message is then passed along until the last individual in line reveals what he believes he has heard. Hilarity may ensue as the garbled phrases are compared to the original. Whether the mix-ups were from poor diction, inadequate listening skills, or intentional misdirection doesn’t really matter. The goal of the game has been reached—message mangled.
Isn’t our world much like the telephone game? Oral histories passed down through the ages often bear little resemblance to the events that inspired them. Some important bits of history are forgotten, overlooked, or intentionally left out of textbooks because they may not fit with the agenda of the publisher. And, let’s face it, we often aren’t totally honest when we review our own pasts either.
The Lord God had a very important message for mankind. Mankind could not afford to have this life-giving message garbled or misunderstood. The Law and the Gospel are both needed in their unvarnished and unadulterated forms—just as God intended.
What a blessing that our God didn’t leave this important matter of our salvation to such chancy methods as oral history or human memory! “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in the book.’” (Exodus 17:14) For about 1600 years God the Holy Spirit breathed His thoughts and words into various chosen individuals, causing them to put down in writing that blessed message of salvation. “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) We aren’t told of the actual method employed by the Holy Spirit, but in the last passage cited, the word used in Greek for “moved” suggests the movement of a boat on the water by the wind. As the wind carries and directs a vessel, so also the Holy Spirit carried and directed the writers of Scripture to set down in writing His holy Word.
Imagine! The very eternal thoughts, words, mysteries, blessings, and promises of our loving Father in heaven, written down and placed in our care! Isn’t it shameful how casually and callously we often treat this wondrous blessing of God? Since the Bible is God’s Word, inspired and inerrant, it is also the highest authority in all matters. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) We hear many today disparaging established churches with the mantra of “Deeds, not creeds!” Yet, unless one has a universal standard that applies to all people of all time, how can one determine which deeds are appropriate to pursue? The Bible gives us just such a standard.
When we are assailed by others as being too narrow-minded about the way of salvation, we can reference Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) If we are accused of clinging to old-fashioned ideas from an ancient text, we should be quick to point out, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
In this sinful world of misinformation and misdirection, it is important to set the record straight, especially when it comes to matters that really count. Since our Savior Jesus has called us to be witnesses to the world of His plan of salvation, we should be diligent in studying the Word of God. May the Holy Spirit bless our hearing and learning of His Word so we may speak it faithfully to God’s glory.
David W. Bernthal is the principal of Luther Memorial School in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.